Frequently Asked Questions
If you've never heard of entertainment estate law, you are not alone. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about this unique and sometimes complex area of law.
Why Should I Hire An Entertainment Attorney?
- An entertainment attorney is someone who has an expertise in U.S. copyright law. It is important to have someone who knows how U.S. copyright law works and how the entertainment business actually operates. Just like probate law, U.S. copyright law is a specialized area that requires a lawyer's specialized knowledge.
What Can't A Probate Lawyer Do It?
- While a probate lawyer (one who deals with decedents' estates, wills and trusts) may have specialized knowledge of the statutes, decisions, and court rules which apply to this type of practice, most of the law in this area is state law, which varies from state to state; such lawyers typically practice in state court. U.S. copyright law, however, is federal law, and often federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction. Moreover, federal law in the area of copyrights often completely pre-empts state law on the subject, so no matter what a decedent's will or trust says, certain rights will be governed by federal law. Someone who is knowledgeable in probate law may not understand U.S. copyright law. It's not enough just to read the statutes, it's also important to understand how that statute operates.
Will Companies Pay More Than One Person?
- Yes, companies will pay more than one person, if the rights belong to two or more persons, but the proper documentation must be sent to the proper parties, and for those not involved day to day in the entertainment business, it's often difficult to find the right person.
Can We Get Rights Back?
- Yes, copyrights can be recovered. There may be a reversion under the contract, there may be a right to rescind the contract under state law, or there may be a termination right under U.S. copyright law. This is the reason to consult an experienced entertainment lawyer because they will know if, when and how heirs can get rights back. Sometimes, even though a contract says the rights are transferred forever, under U.S. copyright law, heirs can terminate the transfer and acquire rights.
What If The Heirs Are Fighting?
- It's never good when heirs fight, but that doesn't mean heirs have to lose rights. If everyone is willing to listen to the options and what rights collectively everyone has, and how collectively they can be recaptured, everyone wins. If you have to fight, wait until after you know what rights you have to fight over.
What If There Is No Will?
- If there is no will, each state has a statutory scheme that will determine how most rights are split among heirs. Whether someone dies without a will, also known as intestate, U.S. copyright law may still apply as to certain rights, regardless of the state statutory scheme.